Sunday, February 12, 2006

Christo's Dream

February 12, 2005, was a big deal in Central Park. That was the day The Gates opened. The park was all dressed up in saffron by Christo, the artist who has a penchant for huge art projects that are daunting in their scale and the complexity of their execution. The project, conceived by him 26 years ago, consisted of 7500 banners of heavy fabric ( you could ask attendants for 2x2inch squares of the stuff for a souvenir ) that were attached to heavy metal poles and were assembled all over the 800 acres of Central Park for 16 days. Why 16 days? The mayor’s answer to that question: we can’t afford the security it takes to protect the structures and increased visitors for longer than that. Too bad, I could have walked under those flapping banners for the rest of the winter.

Some people hated The Gates, others didn’t understand it, and most people I saw just seemed to enjoy it. One thing I am certain of, I have never seen the volume of people walking through Central Park that I saw last February for the 16 days the banners were up. I have never witnessed people strolling with smiles on their faces, lingering to take in a view of banners in the distance against the setting sun even with temperatures in the mid30s.

My reaction was pretty simple—I loved The Gates. I would go out of my way to pay homage to the project every single day that it existed, trying to take in as many different installation areas as possible. I loved taking pictures from different angles, noticing the difference in the sheen of the fabric against the midday sun as opposed to early morning or dusk. It was like having a parade every day—and I was part of it. I missed the sheer joi de vis of it when February ended.

Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, considered the critics who wanted meaning as missing the point. “We do not build messages. We do not build symbols. It’s only a work of art. Nothing else”, he said in an interview with CBS’ Morley Safer. That seems a little understated to me. Isn’t it enough to bring joy and beauty?

Incidentally, it’s probably no coincidence that The Gates was installed during the 150th anniversary of Central Park. A few facts ( for more, ): Central park was the first major park in the united States designed exclusively for public use; when the park was conceived in 1855, New York City had not developed beyond 38th Street, some 30 blocks below the current park; the land, all 800 acres, cost the city $5 million dollars; in the mid1850s, there were 500,000 people in New York City who used the cemeteries for recreation because that was the only place green space existed; the park was the idea of William Cullen Bryant, editor of the Evening Post; and, finally, the park’s design was selected from an open competition of anonymous bids—and won by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, both young men with dreams.

Two centuries of dreamers back to back it seems to me--great for us. Thanks, Christo,Frederick, Calvert, for your desire to give us all something beautiful to look at—and remember.

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